The original Modern Warfare changed multiplayer games forever with its out-of-game progression system and unlocks. But if Modern Warfare built the foundation of Call of Duty multiplayer, it was Modern Warfare 2, which sold nearly 10 million more copies than its predecessor, and the very similar Modern Warfare 3, which is still the highest selling game in the series, that cemented it. In these two sequels Infinity Ward kept the first game’s tension but ratcheted up the speed and gave players even more options to customize the loadouts they brought into each multiplayer match. And it’s from these two games that 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer seems to draw its inspiration from.
Of all the differences between 2019’s Modern Warfare and 2007’s, the maps may be what stands out the most.
Modern Warfare (2007) featured wide open areas and long sight lines. Even on the smaller maps, chances were good you could see an enemy coming and they could see you, too. On these maps, one player could stand in a window and hold down an entire section on their own with no reason to ever move.
But Modern Warfare 2, and the beta for 2019’s Modern Warfare, aren’t like that at all. The long sight lines are still there, but most of the maps here are broken up with nooks and crannies you can hide in, and tight corners for you to whip around in hopes of seeing an enemy before they realize you’re there. You’re meant to stay mobile, and instant reactions are king.
All this makes for a game that moves at a different speed. It isn’t the constant rushing of the Call of Duty series’ more recent entries, like last year’s Black Ops 4 where players can slide around the map at lighting speed, but it’s certainly faster than the 2007 version. The new Modern Warfare is full of a contemplative quickness, if such a thing can be said to exist. You never stand in the same place too long because there’s always a better place to go, but if you rush around the map too quickly, you’re sure to end up in someone’s sights. It’s the kind of pace that can only works with small maps that are easily learned.
After half of a match I already found myself hearing shots and knowing exactly which building they came from, or climbing a box to get an angle on an alley I knew an enemy was running toward. It’s the kind of instant familiarity that Modern Warfare 2 had with its best maps, the ones that were always small enough that you’d never go more than 20 seconds without finding someone, but big enough to never feel too cramped. Situational awareness and knowledge of movement patterns through tight spaces are key to success.
The one problem with these maps in the Modern Warfare beta is that they are sometimes undermined by bad spawning. At its best, Modern Warfare 2’s spawns would make it feel like the battlefield was constantly shifting. As one team pushed from one side of the map to the other, their opponents would start to spawn on the opposite side, turning the battlefield around. The spawns were quick and could sometimes help an enemy get the drop on you, but they rarely felt unfair or completely unpredictable.
In the Modern Warfare beta, unpredictable spawns were the norm. Anytime I went a few seconds without fighting someone it always felt possible that they could spawn in behind me, or in the perfect spot to start shooting. These kinds of spawns are frustrating for everyone involved.
For every time I died to a player who had spawned in behind me from a point that I cleared a moment earlier, I can remember getting kills on freshly revived players that died because they happened to spawn facing away from me. But what else is a beta for if not fixing minor issues like these?
This frenetic-but-thoughtful pace combined with the intricately designed maps made every one of Modern Warfare beta’s matches fun. Whether the previous match was a blow out win or a narrow defeat it was always easy to justify another seven minute round. Playing the new Modern Warfare wasn’t exactly like spending hours on Xbox Live back in 2009, but it was close.
Despite the minor annoyance of some unpredictable spawns, Modern Warfare does feel like a departure from the recent run of Call of Duty games.
Rather than trying to pull in elements of other popular multiplayer games, Modern Warfare feels like Infinity Ward stripping away layers and bringing the series back to the things that make it great. A decade ago, Modern Warfare 2 was the most popular game in the world, and the Modern Warfare beta makes it easy to remember why.